Saturday, April 26, 2008

The more I try / the more I find / I just can't leave the past behind


I had a day of two halves yesterday as I straddled the fairly wide gap between two wildly different worlds. One was real, the other slightly surreal.

At dawn I found myself in the grounds of the Australian Consulate, who also represent New Zealand’s interests (or, mostly, lack thereof based on the number of compatriots you see here now) in Bali. Our daughter, we found out earlier in the week, had volunteered to represent her home country as the flag raiser at the ANZAC Dawn Parade.

Sadly neither Brigid or myself are morning people, and squirmed a little at the thought of a 4.45am rise.

I’m not belittling the lost lives of those who are remembered on ANZAC Day. I’ve stood in the Auckland War Memorial Museum on several occasions and looked at the name of my great uncle, Julian Cornelius Brook, who was fatally wounded at Gallipoli (and who took the above shot), with a mix of respect and great sadness.  The profoundness of ANZAC day dwarfs all of us.

I explained that, as best I could to Isabella, but at thirteen, as the bulletproof years start, it's not that easy.

And its still not that easy to throw the dogs off and pull oneself from a comfy bed before sunrise. But we did.

However to be honest, as moving the last post is at dawn, as the flag goes to half mast, it was all a little odd. Firstly we were in Bali, in other words, in Indonesia, where ANZAC not only means nothing but the country, for all its multitude of holidays, doesn’t have a great tradition of remembering young people lost in foreign fields for, often, long forgotten causes and what now seems like foolish leaders involved in petty political manoeuvring for pointless advantage (could WWI be described any other way?). Indeed, many in Indonesia, especially the younger, would rather forget their dubious military adventures and with good reason. The holidays here, instead, are either religious in nature or remembering the battles against the imperial forces partially being remembered by ANZAC Day. The Commonwealth forces are not well remembered here, as they were the bad guys in 1945.


With that in mind I was pretty sure that the Indonesian General placing a wreath was as confused about what was going on as he indeed looked.

Then we had the choir, Balinese, and in wonderful voice. But there is something rather bizarre listening to an Indonesian choir singing God defend New Zealand, in Maori, in Bali. Even in New Zealand the words to that strange song seem misplaced now, but here……

That bizarreness was accentuated by the consulate itself, which has been sculpted, behind massive security gates, walls and electronic devices, to look as much like a part of Canberra as possible. I’ve seen nothing like it’s rolled, manicured lawns in this country before…it was like walking into an expat’s misty fantasy memory.

And then we have the consul’s car...a new-ish top end BMW. Aside from the snarl from a leaving Ocker vet asking ‘why isn’t it a Holden’, it seems odd that, considering the massive security at the consulate, arguably quite reasonable when one thinks of the recent past, the head guy should drive a car that so obviously stands out from the masses on the jalans.

Gustu-Wedding-013 Of course, it was superbly done…the ceremony that is, and the consul and staff gave everything expected of them, and was followed by a good ocker breakfast barbie on the rolling lawns. In Indonesia? Who us?

So from Denpasar, after a bite with some friends, we then travelled north to a place somewhere between Giyanyar and Petak, to our gardener’s wedding. He, Gustu, is a lovely guy, not very good as a gardener but he came with our house and we’ve never had the heart to let him go. I just like chatting to him and seeing his smile. And now, aged just 20, he’s marrying his girl, Putu, aged just 17. We’re not sure exactly why, but his niece, aged 19, said ‘He’s too young’, and there is no doubting his worried expression.

It was a million miles from the ANZAC dawn and the rolled western styled lawns. This was the Bali that tourists never see, which, to be fair, is the bulk of the island. There was little English spoken, no tour buses and no hawkers. This was a trip back to the northern hills where nothing much has changed in over a century, apart from the click of a digital camera and the odd cellphone, to the family compound.

Gustu-Wedding-017Change may be coming though, as we passed the workmen on the winding narrow road digging to install a small part of the incredible 58,000kms of fibre optic cable going through Indonesia under Project Palapa Ring, whilst first world NZ argues over its tiny infrastructure project.

And I guess, like China, that infrastructure is a part of the thing that will take this massive country to a completely different time and place. And like China, it will happen without anyone expecting it.

  But at the moment I’m still struggling through a country where, bugger the internet, most people can’t read a map primarily because the Dutch deliberately kept the populace uneducated for their own purposes, and successive governments have done little more, so there is no tradition of such. Thus we got very lost getting to Gustu’s upacara because the map on the invite rear bore no relationship to the actual route Gustu-Wedding-038 and we were, after we left the main road, in the hands of old people sitting on the side of the road, many of whom no doubt, had rarely left their village, pointing us in vague directions towards the next village. It was only about 40km from our house but took several hours and several stunning but incorrect roads before we stumbled upon the compound in Desa Babakan.

Tourists are always going on about the ‘real’ Bali (by which they often mean Ubud for gods sake) but here in the hills, off the roads, up the muddy trails is a world that few ever see, and yet that is how about half the population of the island still lives, and I always feel like a voyeur when I catch a small, but always welcoming, glimpse of what this island used to be like, and its little like the ‘real’ Bali sold to the masses.

How long this world will survive, as the likes of Denpasar more and more becomes the day to day reality of Bali for so many Balinese, and the villas and technology creep north and into the valleys and hills, I don’t know.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

welcome to my world

Grumpy old men are everywhere, it’s a part of growing old and I guess I’m one at times. However the music world seems to produce them in extraordinarily large numbers. Witness George Harrison, bless his guitar-weeping socks, complaining that Oasis was not real music.

And then we have Gray Bartlett in the New Zealand Herald yesterday. Gray is trekking around NZ celebrating 50 years in the business, which is quite an achievement. Not only 50 years, but in that period he’s done pretty well, selling a bunch of records in China before anyone else did, and, in recent years, having a fairly major input into the early career of singers Hayley Westerna , Yulia and a bloke called Will Martin. Hayley, of course, had a burst of success in the UK a few years back, although her star seems to have fallen a little since then, which may be because she’s more or less, because of the nature of what she does, condemned to repeat herself. Will Martin has an album out there of a similar sort of granny friendly songs like Danny Boy. I hope he does well.

So, hats off to Gray, and well done. But why does he need to sour the occasion and belittle both himself and the industry he’s been a part of for five decades by lashing out in such an unnecessary way. By whinging:

Why should someone who wants to finish an album in Hokitika get taxpayer funding? It's great for the community interest, but let the councils look after it.

It all sounds like sour grapes doesn’t it, as if he is pissed off because he didn’t get the grants he applied for or thought he should’ve been offered. Perhaps that’s true, perhaps its not, but reading through he certainly comes across as a sourpuss and to my mind his arguments don’t even stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny.

I have my own issues with New Zealand on Air’s funding, mostly to with the way it’s been diluted and compromised by the perceived need to keep radio happy..It’s followed commercial radio rather than led it.

But that aside, thank god it’s there and thank god a man like Brendan Smyth has been there to guide it so devotedly. And thank god for the likes of Mike Chunn, his work at APRA and with his Play It Strange trust, working with the young writers and musicians. Gray takes a swipe at Chunn for doing just that for heavens sake.

So, lets go back to the world that Gray longs for, since he says, of government funding:

they've missed the boat over the last six or seven years

Really? Before the current government music funding was a fraction of it was and most of us in the industry felt fairly much forgotten. Aware of the fact that the music industry was craving a change of government, and a positive arts regime, National tried to rush out a youth radio network at a very embarrassing launch at Auckland’s Shortland Street Studios where the minister concerned was clearly out of her depth and unable to name any NZ recording artists beyond Split Enz when asked, although she was able to mention OMC in her speech (they’d returned some 10 million dollars to the NZ economy, but it was clear from the speech she didn’t know what or who an OMC was).

How have they ‘missed’ the it because they’ve funded dozens of grass roots level acts, writing and recording their own music…Gray says it should be about the artist, not the songs which:

New Zealand can't hope to compete on a world market with

Tell that to Neil Finn whose had several million plays of Don’t Dream Its Over worldwide, or to Alan Jansson, who has two US BMI Million Play certificates on the wall of his office for a song he wrote with Paul Fuemana in Freeman’s Bay. To my mind, where NZ on Air has fallen over in recent times is because it no longer encourages the sort of individuality these songs represent…it doesn’t go far enough.

So, stuff creativity says Gray (at least that’s the drift I get) because the implication is that Gray is upset that the likes of Hayley, Yulia and Elizabeth Marvelly have not had funding he feels they so richly deserve, above and beyond these creative bods. He says at the end of the story after all, that the government should just give him the money to do it properly. And perhaps there is an argument that these people should be funded by NZOA but it’s really not strong. These people, with acceptable voices, generally provide pleasant cover versions of songs that others write. They could come from anywhere…there is nothing really ‘of us’ in what they do. NZ on Air’s brief, through successive governments is to provide a reflection of ‘us’.

It’s hard to argue that future generations will look back on Hayley or the others as seminal to NZ’s cultural development, as we now look back at, yes, Split Enz, Hello Sailor, The La De Das or Johnny Devlin (and incidentally, both of the last two also worked with covers, but added a little extra obviously enzeld that Hayley does not..or maybe that is a subjective judgement) defining just that. Nope I think in 2030 the name will elicit a Haley who response…

And I’m happy that he can say he has proved right his declaration that she would be bigger than Kiri. But I think there are greater forces at play than ‘bigger than Kiri’. There is little doubt that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will be remembered by the ages, regardless of who is ‘bigger’ than her, as her achievement is bigger than mere sales figures. Kenny G has probably outsold both John Coltrane and Miles Davis too.

And Gray complains that we don’t recognize our country acts…forgive me but I think the likes of The Warratahs, Al Hunter and other original country acts are very well regarded in NZ.

I’m happy he pulls good crowds with Brendan Dugan and Suzanne Prentice, but neither represents mainstream contemporary creative NZ. Neither for heavens sake does John Grenell…in fact I doubt most NZers could even tell you who he is (3 clues..he’s the bloke who sang a Jim Reeves tune in a Toyota ad a decade or two back, was resident on many of those gruesome country shows the NZBC used to love and discreetly changed his name from John Hore many years back after he worked out the rest of the country was smirking).

The other inescapable fact is that, as any record exec or a quick look at the charts would tell you, country may put bums on the seats of country halls but, with the odd exception, mostly to the MOR market, it doesn’t sell records and hasn’t for decades.

So I wish Gray well on his 50 years doing what he so clearly loves doing and making a good living from it, but if he represents the music policy of an incoming National government he’s the best argument that the music industry could provide for NOT changing the government.

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